TAI CHI & CANCER

Can Tai Chi Cure (or Prevent) Cancer?  by Peter Gryffin

There are strong indications that Tai Chi influxes oxygen throughout the body in ways different from any other exercise. Increase blood oxygen saturation and diffusion may have beneficial effects on cancer treatment, and possibly even prevention. A study conducted by Dr. Peter Gryffin demonstrated a significant effect among 31 subjects (p < .001) on increased blood oxygen saturation during the practice of Tai Chi, ranging from one to three points. These results indicate an effect on the body related to oxygen use that is significantly different from conventional exercises. According to the literature, mild forms of aerobic exercise such as walking result in no change, while strenuous exercise can result in a decrease in blood oxygen saturation up to 10 points or more. Otto Warburg was awarded the Nobel Prize in science for discovering a link between cancer and oxygen deficiency. Warburg found that cancer cells occur in areas of oxygen deficiency (hypoxic areas). Warburg found that cancer results in the replacement of respiration of oxygen(oxidation of sugar) in normal body cells with fermentation of sugar.

Normal body cells meet energy needs by respiration, as opposed to cancer cells which are partial anaerobes, meeting their needs by fermentation. According to the literature although increasing oxygen diffusion will not reverse this process, studies have demonstrated that increased oxygen diffusion does help in the treatment of cancer. Of particular note is a study on the effect of an implantable micro oxygen generator (IMOG) which increases oxygenation around tumors, resulting in a significant effect in combating tumors. The device was tested in mice, but indicates a promising method for enhancing chemotherapy, and indicates that benefits from Tai Chi may be similarly related to enhanced blood oxygen saturation and diffusion.


More research is needed to verify the actual impact of Tai Chi on cancer, but at the very least, Tai Chi may help with overall health while undergoing cancer treatment, and has been shown to assist with pain management. Several people who seemed beyond help after exhausting Western forms of cancer treatment, experienced some degree of remission after taking up Tai Chi, while others experienced complete remission when practicing Tai Chi in conjunction with other treatment. It is important to stress that any alternative practice or treatment should always be discussed with your doctor, and performed in conjunction with current treatment.


One noteworthy benefit is the reduction or elimination of pain, which is a valuable benefit of Tai Chi practice, and helpful for dealing with the side effects of some cancer treatment. A student in the advanced stages of cancer who took my Tai Chi class at Fullerton College was able to get completely off of pain pills within 10 days of beginning daily Tai Chi practice. Karen began taking the class when told that all efforts had failed with radiation and chemotherapy, and that she had little more than three weeks to live. She began looking at alternative therapies, and stumbled across Tai Chi. I made a video for her to follow daily at home, similar to the YouTube video on the homepage. Over two years later, she was still taking the class, before her family moved to Wyoming to fulfill a life long dream. Although Karen never did completely eliminate cancer from her body, she firmly believed that Tai Chi had considerably extended her life, as well as the quality of her life. Considering her prognosis when she began the class, it does seem likely that Tai Chi practice did have some impact. Other students with cancer have told me they believe that Tai Chi was a critical factor in the complete remission of their cancer, but since they were in the early stages, and undergoing chemotherapy, it is difficult to say to what degree Tai Chi may have affected their prognosis. In Karen's situation Tai Chi was the only new element introduced in her treatment after all standard methods of combating cancer had failed.


What If I am already undergoing treatment?  


Don’t Stop! Tai Chi can be a useful aid for health, and may one day generate enough evidence that it has a direct effect on cancer, but it is always wise to follow the advice of your doctor, and to use tai chi in conjunction with recommended treatments. Most doctors are uncertain if Tai Chi can directly impact cancer, but there is evidence that Tai Chi can help with other health concerns while undergoing treatment.

What Should I Do Next?  Talk with your doctor. Tai Chi should not be used to replace any current treatment. Many health benefits have been demonstrated from practicing Tai Chi, benefits that are helpful regardless of the impact on cancer cells. After talking with your doctor, look for a Tai Chi class in your area.


What should I ask my Doctor?  


Let your doctor know that you are thinking of taking Tai Chi to help with your health. Feel free to talk with your doctor about research on Tai Chi and cancer, but understand that your doctor may not be familiar with this exercise, and may be reluctant to endorse it since they know so little about it. Talk with your doctor about your condition, and if a gentle form of exercise might help.


What should I look for in a Tai Chi class? 


The efficient use of oxygen due to dynamic relaxation may be one of the key elements of why Tai Chi may help with cancer. The Chinese word “Qi” (pronounced “Chi”) translates as oxygen. To promote Qi, it is essential to do Tai Chi slowly, while still being able to take complete breaths. Movements should be relaxed and continuous. It is also common to do 10 – 20 minutes of other “Qi Gong” (Breathing Exercises), as a warm up for Tai Chi. Talk with the instructor about your condition, and feel free to share any information you have.


Where can I find a Tai Chi Class? 


Many classes are posted online, and may be offered through community recreation classes and health clubs. Check around and compare classes, prices, and style, as there is a wide variation in teachers and classes. Look for a class that emphasizes slow smooth movement. Some teachers have sped Tai Chi up to be like aerobics, which may benefit the cardiovascular system, but limits increased blood oxygen saturation and relaxation. Typically the 24 style short form should take a minimum of 5 minutes, up to 7-10 minutes to complete. Before beginning any new exercise, it is recommended to discuss doing so with your doctor, particularly if you are considering taking Tai Chi for any health concerns.


References:

               Harvard Women’s Health Watch (May 2009). The health benefits of tai chi. retrieved online:   

               http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletters/Harvard_Womens_Health_Watch/2009/May/The-health-benefits-of-tai-chi

 

            Abbott, R. B., Hui, K., Hays, R. D., Li, M., & Pan, T. (2007) A randomized controlled trial of tai chi for tension headaches.

            Advanced Access Publication 12 4(1) 107-113.

 

Brahimi-Horn, M.C., Chiche, J., Pouyssegur, J. (2007) Hypoxia and cancer. Journal of Molecular Medicine, 85: 1301-1307.

Du, J., Daniels, D.H., Asbury, C., Venkataraman, S., Liu, J., Spitz, D.R., Oberley, L.W., Cullen, J.J. (2006) Mitochondrial production of reactive oxygen species mediate dicumarol-induced cytotoxicity in cancer cells. The Journal of Biological Chemistry, 281 (49), pp. 37416-37426.

Herrmann, P.C., Herrmann, E.C. (2007) Oxygen metabolism and a potential role for cytochrome c oxidase in the Warburg effect. Journal of Bioenergy, 39: 247-250.

Gryffin, P.A. (2011). Tai Chi, Cancer, and Hypoxia. In review, Supportive Cancer Care.

Maleki T, Cao N, Song S, Kao C, Ko SC, Ziaie B. An ultrasonically-powered implantable micro oxygen generator (IMOG). IEEE Trans Biomed Eng 2011; 58(11): 3104-3111.

 Pederson, P.L. (2007) Warburg, me and Hexokinase 2: Multiple discoveries of key molecular events underlying one of cancers’ most common phenotypes, the “Warburg effect,” i.e., elevated glycolysis in the presence of oxygen. Journal of Bioenergy, 39: 211-222.


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